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COVID-19 - Issues for the OSV Sector​

updated 1 February 2022

The Covid-19 global pandemic has brought profound challenges for the maritime sector in general, and OSV owners and operators in particular.


While the maritime and offshore industries have learned to cope with the impact of the pandemic, many challenges remain:

  • Some countries have introduced new restrictions as a result of the spread of the Omicron variant, once again preventing crew changes in many ports

  • Restrictions have also prevented crew members needing urgent medical attention from going ashore in some ports

  • Access to vaccinations for crew members is not universal, which not only risks the spread of the virus among crew members, but poses further difficulties in changing crew, when countries require vaccination certificates for seafarers to be able to travel to and from the seafarer’s home country.


These problems can impact both the physical and mental wellbeing of seafarers.

ISOA continues to work with other trade associations to find solutions to these issues, lobbying governments and UN agencies, as well as supporting practical initiatives to support shipowners, ship operators, and their seafarers.


The following news items highlight developments which we hope will result in more steps being taken so that seafarers, along with other transport workers, can receive the necessary vaccinations, and can transit safely between their home countries and the vessels on which they are employed.


SEAFARER VACCINATION (update January 2022)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has named seafarers as one of the groups of transportation workers to be prioritised for COVID-19 vaccination in instances of limited supplies. The updated guidance (Juy 2021) for Stage II of its vaccine roadmap from the WHO's Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) states: "Seafarers and air crews who work on vessels that carry goods and no passengers, with special attention to seafarers who are stranded at sea and prevented from crossing international borders for crew change due to travel restrictions."

Information on availability of vaccines for seafarers is provided by the International Christian Maritime Association (ICMA) here and by the North American Maritime Ministry Association (NAMMA) here.



World leaders’ knee-jerk reactions to the Omicron variant are putting transport workers and the global supply chain at greater risk of collapse, warn international transport organisations and unions representing road, air and sea transport.

Cross-border transport workers including seafarers, air crew and drivers must be able to continue to do their jobs, and cross borders without overly restrictive travel rules, to keep already ailing supply chains moving.

IATA, the International Air Transport Association, ICS, the International Chamber of Shipping, IRU, the International Road Transport Union, and ITF, the International Transport Workers’ Federation, have jointly called for governments to not reimpose border restrictions that further limit the freedom of movement of international transport workers and learn from the lessons of the last two years.

The full statement from these associations can be viewed here.



The Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO) have issued a joint statement calling for port and coastal States to facilitate the prompt disembarkation of seafarers for medical care as a matter of "life or death"; to prioritize seafarers for COVID-19 vaccination; and to designate seafarers as key workers, recognizing seafarers' valuable contribution to world trade.

The full statement can be accessed here.


This guide, produced by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) in collaboration with the International Maritime Health Association (IMHA), Intertanko, and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) outlines the most up-to-date and relevant information regarding vaccinations for seafarers and includes answers to important questions on availability and efficacy of vaccinations for ships’ crew and shipping companies. It can be accessed here

COVID-19 - Issues for the OSV Sector​updated 14 December 2020


The Covid-19 global pandemic has brought profound challenges for the maritime sector in general, and OSV owners and operators in particular.

​While the industry has achieved some success in getting recognition at an international level, including from a number of UN bodies, of the serious problems still being encountered in undertaking crew changes, a number of governments have still not put in place protocols which enable crew to move safely as required between the ships where they are employed and their home countries.

Industry associations, including ISOA, continue to make efforts to highlight to governments the need to ensure that the maritime sector can continue to function effectively, and this certainly applies to the role of offshore support vessels in meeting global energy requirements.

While the short term solution has been to defer changing crews, this cannot continue indefinitely, and crews are entitled to safe repatriation to their home countries for their leave, and to be replaced by a fresh crew.​

ISOA is co-operating with other trade associations in the offshore energy sector to find practical solutions to enable rotation of all personnel in the offshore energy sector. This will require not only working with governments to put in place practical solutions for the movement of workers/seafarers but also addressing the lack of scheduled air services to transport the personnel to/from their countries of domicile.

​Companies impacted by similar problems are welcome to contact us at

The following news items highlight developments which we hope will result in all governments taking the action so that crew can transit safely between their home countries and the vessels on which they are employed.


IMO has  published a video highlighting the plight of seafarers who are still stranded at sea and has issued a strong call for their fundamental rights to be respected. Please see the link below to the video, which is well worth watching:



(8 December 2020)

The ILO Governing Body has taken the exceptional action of adopting a Resolution to address the dire situation of seafarers trapped at sea because of the COVID-19 pandemic. More information is available at:


MSC met virtually in November and approved an MSC circular thereby giving government level recognition to the industry-developed protocols.

This gives an additional ‘status’ to these protocols when pressing governments to implement them.

ISOA (along with other members of the Offshore Energy Industry Group) issued a press release on 1 December, welcoming this development, and stressing the need for individual governments to take the appropriate action.


The United Nations is also playing its part in putting pressure on national governments to address the problems for seafarers caused by the pandemic.

The UN General Assembly has adopted a Resolution on ‘International cooperation to address the challenges faced by seafarers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic to support global supply chains’.

The resolution can be seen at:

Joint Statement of the Officers of the ILO Special Tripartite Committee on the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19). (1 October 2020)

joint statement of the officers of the Special Tripartite Committee (STC), which is established under the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, to keep the working of the Convention under continuous review, was issued on 1 October.

The Officers of the STC are appointed by the ILO Governing Body, and comprise representatives of governments, seafarers and shipowners.

The joint statement reflects that ‘in the framework of this unprecedented crisis, the ILO reached out to them (the STC) to build the most appropriate responses to the challenges faced by the maritime sector’.

The statement reiterates the important obligations of member states of the ILO in respect of issues including:

·     Official recognition of seafarers as key workers and to be granted exemption from travel restrictions

·     Clear directions to port authorities and local health authorities to enable ships to continue trading, and to enable the swift disembarkation and repatriation of crew members

·     Facilitate the delivery of essential medical supplies, fuel, water, spare parts and provisions to ships

·     Allow seafarers to access port State medical facilities and receive medical attention on an equal basis as nationals and in accordance with national circumstances.

·     Ensure that visitors to ships are strictly monitored and are provided with all necessary personal protective equipment to limit the risk of contagion.

It is hoped that this joint approach by representatives of governments, seafarers and shipowners will bring additional pressure to bear on those governments which have not to date taken appropriate action.


UN and partners press for seafarers to be designated ‘Key Worker’ during Covid Pandemic (24 September)

At a side event held during the 75th Session of the General Assembly of the Unition Nations, the UN Secretary-General has again appealed for governments to act on behalf of hundreds of thousands of seafarers and other maritime workers stuck at sea for endless months, in some cases more than a year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A press release highlighting the statements made at this event can be accessed here

Joint Statement by UN Agencies calling on all Governments to immediately recognize seafarers as key workers (11 September 2020)

​In a joint statement

The International Labour Office (ILO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Global Compact, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the International Organization for Migration, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), have called on member States to establish and implement measurable, time-bound plans to increase the rate of crew changes.

Despite significant efforts by shipowners’ and seafarers’ organizations and UN bodies, more than 300,000 seafarers are still trapped aboard vessels, anxious to disembark and return home, and another 300,000 are waiting ashore to replace them, facing financial ruin if they can’t go back to work. Fishers on many commercial fishing vessels face a similar problem.

This is due, among other reasons, to restrictions on travel, embarkation and disembarkation in ports, quarantine measures, reductions in available flights, and limits on the issuing of visas and passports as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

ISOA welcomes commitments of governments at International Maritime Virtual Summit on crew changes. (12 July 2020)

ISOA applauded the breakthrough at an international maritime virtual summit hosted by the UK Government on 9 July where 12 other governments also pledged their support for actions needed to ensure the welfare of the world’s seafarers during the Covid-19 pandemic, including making sure that crew changes can take place in a safe and timely manner.

The government representatives at the summit expressed support for recommendations made by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) developed in consultation with industry groups, which encourage all IMO Member States to support crew changes by implementing measures to facilitate movement of key personnel notwithstanding the tightened border restrictions imposed due to the pandemic.

Supporting governments included:

·     United Kingdom

·     Denmark

·     France

·     Germany

·     Greece

·     Indonesia

·     Netherlands

·     Norway

·     Philippines

·     Saudi Arabia

·     Singapore

·     United Arab Emirates

·     United States of America


However is some cases, these commitments still need to be translated into action where it is needed, and concern remains that there are continuing difficulties in other key countries which did not participate in the summit.

The full press release by ISOA and other members of the offshore energy sector industry group can be read here

The full International Maritime Summit’s statement can be read here

ISOA writes to over 40 governments to stress the importance of key workers in the offshore energy sector (1 June 2020)

​ISOA, together with four other associations representing companies in the offshore energy sector, has written to governments in countries which are engaged in offshore energy production and exploration to highlight the importance of allowing the travel of ship crew and other personnel working in the offshore energy sector to and from their ships and other places of work.

​The text of that letter is attached here.

​The letter has so far been sent to over 40 governments, drawing attention to two important recommendations from IMO:

·     ​Recommendations which set out the action needed to facilitate the movement of ‘key workers’ to and from their places of work on all vessels and installations engaged in offshore energy sector activities.

·     A recommended framework of protocols for ensuring safe ship crew changes and travel during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This has subsequently been updated (see 'Other News' below.

ISOA will be continuing to put pressure on governments to implement these recommendations so that crew changes on support vessels can take place safely, which is vital for the ongoing health and safety of crew members, and to ensure the continuity of offshore energy supplies.

Other news


The recommended framework of protocols for facilitating crew changes, drawn up by  maritime industry associations, was originally issued by IMO in May.

An updated version has been issued by IMO, following further industry input, as Circular Letter No.4204/Add.14/Rev.1 on 5 October 2020. It can be accessed at:

One reason for making this update now is that IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) has agreed to convert it into an MSC Circular/Resolution at its meeting in November, following review by governments at an informal intersessional meeting. As an MSC issued document it will have extra status and should carry greater weight with governments.



Extension of Class Surveys (10 September 2020)

IACS member societies had earlier agreed that in certain circumstances, the validity of class certificates could be extended by three months when surveys could not be completed. IACS Council has now agreed that a further three months’ extension may be possible.

The details are included in the following IACS Notice.

Promoting Public Health Measures in response to Covid-19 on Cargo Ships (WHO) (25 August 2020)

​The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a new document which provides guidance for shipowners, seafarers, unions and associations and competent authorities for health and transport on protecting seafarers working on cargo ships and fishing vessels from transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) and management of COVID-19. 

The document is available to download from:

Information note on maritime labour issues and coronavirus (COVID-19)

The International Labour Organization (ILO), which is concerned with the welfare of seafarers globally, has issued a guidance document on how best to address the complexities of the current crisis in light of the provisions of the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006. The information note is here: 


Other Information Sources

·     International Maritime Organization (IMO)


Extensive information including IMO Circulars, and statements by the IMO Secretary-General.


·     International Group of P and I Clubs


Online dashboard to provide information on port and country specific COVID-19 restrictions.  This interactive tool is intended to allow industry to identify commercial risks and physical threats to shipping around the world and provide live updates as to the number of confirmed cases of the virus, countries at risk and what to look out for:

·     International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH)


A link to various sources of port specific information:

·     International Association of Classification Societies (IACS)


This covers various issues associated with class surveys etc.

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